Before she was an award-winning writer, editor, and strategist, Dawn Pick Benson wrestled with the concept of leadership and her role as a leader. Now having had career experience in corporate, non-profit, and higher education sectors, Dawn has reconciled her beliefs about leadership and has decided to make an impact on her world.
While still in grade school, Dawn started thinking about the truth that leaders have the power to change society through their actions. She was inspired when she read biographies of people such as explorer and missionary David Livingston, and abolitionist and Union war spy Harriet Tubman. Her is idea of leadership then was fairly straightforward: Leaders change their society for the better.
In college, Dawn began to doubt her understanding of leadership and her role in leading when she encountered professors and peers who embraced the idea that leadership is an innate, instinctive quality that one either has or doesn't have. This “trait theory” of leadership suggests that effective leaders share a number of common outward personality characteristics, or traits. Because she wasn’t extroverted or charismatic, Dawn came to the conclusion that leadership wasn’t for her. “It seemed like leadership was all about the leader,” Dawn said. “I didn’t want to be a leader just to lead; I wanted to lead so that I could make a difference.”
Much later, when Dawn was a director of marketing, she met a mentor who challenged some of her ideas about leadership. Dawn watched as Chris, a vice president in the same organization, demonstrated excellent leadership skills. “For the first time,” Dawn recollects, “I saw someone who was introverted like me leading well.” The mentor encouraged Dawn to re-examine her approach to leadership. And as she did, Dawn began to realize that she had skills in developing healthy teams, and helping them to develop quality products. This was the turning point in her leadership journey.
Dawn began defining her leadership goals. She reflected on Parker Palmer’s quote: “A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live and move and have their being, conditions that can be either as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell.” The notion of leaders illuminating or shadowing affected how she defined her subsequent leadership roles and activities. She doesn’t see leadership as only a means to an end, but a process by which a leader seeks to understand and develop those who are being led. “I believe that a goal,” Dawn said, “is that employees should be excited to come to work.” She believes leaders develop individuals professionally and personally.
As the owner of dpb communications, a content strategy and marketing company dedicated to helping brands tell their stories, Dawn continues to develop her concepts of leadership. Particularly, she is interested in social entrepreneurship, pursuing solutions to social problems. Like other social entrepreneurs, Dawn has adopted a mission to create and sustain positive change in society.
As an avid traveler, Dawn has frequently visited Kosovo, a Balkan country roughly the size of Connecticut. She has developed many relationships with Kosovars who want to learn how to lead and want to teach others how to lead. During her last three-week trip, she was part of a team that taught leadership skills to college students. “The country has a clear leadership vacuum,” Dawn said. “Workers are seen as commodities. They don’t understand how companies can lead their employees well.” Though she is still in the planning stages, Dawn wants to co-create leadership development opportunities with her Kosovar friends. And as many other social entrepreneurs do, Dawn is pursuing opportunities to serve her vision while remaining open, always learning, and continuously adapting.
With her strong belief that leaders need to invest in and develop those in their care, Dawn wants to affect Kosovo—for the better. “What if a few people began to learn about leadership and passed it on?” she asked. “It could change the country.” Dawn’s leadership journey has led her to live out the simple idea from her childhood: Leaders change society for the better.
Written by: Tamara Rosier has been a college administrator, a professor, a leadership consultant, a high school teacher, and a public speaker. Tamara coaches adults and adolescents with ADHD, helps intelligent people refine their social intelligence, and facilitates leaders as they develop their skills. She received her Ph.D. in Teaching, Learning and Leadership from Western Michigan. She can be reached at [email protected] Read another West Michigan Woman article by Tamara here.